Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Poop Post

While contemplating the urgency of investigating "runner's diarrhea" during a jog the other night, my thoughts turned to, well, birth.

At that moment I was feeling jealous of laboring women. They are among the few healthy adults given a complete pass on the social taboo against shitting oneself. In a delivery room fecal matter is routine, a positive sign even. Not so on the legs of a 'round the town jogger.

I have had a few clients state right off that having a bowel movement during delivery was their primary birth fear. Others joke about it. Some seem not to care at all.

I was hoping to put some hard and fast (no pun intended) numbers here about bowel movements during delivery. I can't find any. The closest thing to an authoritative discussion of the subject was at But it simply said what we all know: birth hormones and the mechanics of the baby's head moving down the birth canal both facilitate pooping during birth.

What I want to know is how often does this happen? And how often does a full-blown bowel movement -- versus a little pellet of stool -- present itself?

The births I have attended have been remarkably poop-free. Someone who knows statistics better than I can tell me whether an n of 24 is statistically significant. If so, then my numbers show that pooping during delivery is relatively rare.

I cannot remember any instance of -- as my spouse described it after the fact with my first son's birth -- "sausage grinder" production. Maybe two or three women pushed out a small piece of stool in advance of their baby. But most women gave birth without any rectal activity at all.

This is potentially comforting news for my concerned clients. I just don't know how to go about validating it. Are there any readers who can find an ACOG article or other reference to the frequency of maternal bowel movements during delivery? Short of that, do any midwives, nurses, doctors or doulas share my experience of fewer-than-expected occurrences?

And for anxious expectant parents, I can offer two reassurances: 1) hospital staff are remarkably skilled at sweeping away stool before anyone sees or smells it -- if you do poop, you are likely never to know (I promise I won't tell!); 2) by the time the threat of public pooping presents itself, you'll be working so hard you're not likely to care. Or at least you'll be far less concerned about it than you are now, sitting calmly at your computer.


Anonymous HollyRhea said...

I was terrified of pooping, too. But I did ( a little ). My husband told me later when I asked him. Honestly - I didn't feel it and I really didn't care. There were, um, much more pressing issues at hand.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Navelgazing Midwife said...

I see poop probably every third birth. I've seen HUGE amounts of poop during pushing maybe every 200. Interestingly, we see more poop when moms are in water than not - we call them "floaties" - and have a fish net to scoop out what we can (not always easy).

Poop doesn't bother me in the least. We don't say, "Wow! You got some poop there, lemme get that!" We just grab a baby wipe and voila! it's gone. No big deal at all.

My apprentice fired a midwife for making comments about her poop and poop smell during her birth. She'd said, "Maybe xxxx should have done an enema" and "whew... open a window! we need some AIR in here." Horrible. Just horrible. This mom had been married 20 years and her husband had never seen her on the toilet, much less pooping.

It is a big fear. I tell women if it makes them feel better, I'll poop too. They laugh and thank me for the offer.

Laughter definitely helps.

2:45 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Navelgazing Midwife, I love that line! I'll remember it for the right situation.

In a way, pooping at my second birth made me feel even more in control. I was able to say, "Someone come wipe me off!" -- I was in a very commanding place. It was great to have someone there even to wipe my bottom while I labored! Talk about feeling like a queen for a day!

Hollyrhea -- my point exactly!

[ed. I removed my previous post for using your name, N.M. -- I don't know how you feel about that!]

3:09 PM  
Blogger T$ said...

I pooped with my second birth, but not my first. I can recall the midwife making a swift wipe and thinking to myself "hmmm, I guess I just pooped.."

And Doulicia, I love the visual of you in labor and yelling "Someone get over here and wipe my a**!" HA!

In the births I have attended I would say it has just been about a handful of births where moms poop. Not very many. I have had clients say, "I got an enema today." or refer to having a big bowel movement earlier in the day. That seemed to calm their minds about not having another one during the pushing stage.

4:13 PM  
Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

What an interesting topic...and I am not kidding. I have had some funny experiences at births...once when we used cut up pieces of wiry potato sack to scoop poop out of a tub the mother was laboring in, for instance.

I also see it less often than everyone assumes. I wrote in a post awhile back about one particular doctor who made quite a scene, wrinkling his nose and upsetting the mother. She felt badly, he said, "Oh, I have a sensitive sniffer...yada, yada." She held back after that, and only my saying, "Just ignore him, he's done this for a thousand years" (to which he chuckled and nodded) got her to push without worrying about "making a mess."

At a home birth a few days later, when the mother said, "Oh, no, I'm pooping," the midwife's response was, "That's good, it means you're almost there."

Midwives rock. :)


5:01 PM  
Blogger Sandy said...

I had small amounts of poop with my second. The midwife and her assistant in training were very discreet and matter-of-fact about it, and I would have been furious (and very surprised) if they had acted any other way. I was just glad I didn't throw up all over myself and my husband (who didn't have extra clothes) like I did with my first.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Bekah said...

My sister and I were discussing this the other day. I wonder if women are more likely to pass stool during delivery if they are anesthetized. Women who are not are usually helped frequently to the toilet, and are able to move their bowels during early labor with that 'birth diarrhea'. Once anesthetized, however, the normal method of elimination is no longer possible, leaving more 'stuff' in the bowels.

My theory might also apply to waterbirth, where women are more reluctant to get out and relieve themselves.

Having experienced anesthetized birth, water birth and natural birth, I passed stool during the first two, and none with the others (one was unassisted so I am positive there was no passage of stool, the other's I believe there was not, but can't be 100% sure).

If my theory is correct, then we would expect to see less passage of stool during natural, land births.

Course, there's always the possibility I'm full of cr*p. ;)

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You ladies are hilarious!!!

4:53 AM  
Blogger Zonie said...

I was googling the topic on pooping during childbirth and this blog came up. Yes, that's one thing I'm really really really concerned about. I'm going to have a water birth this time around and it seems yucky to just think of it.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Harsh said...

wow i pooped on my 1st 2nd and 3rd. IT was the greatest thing of my life. It sprayed out all over the place and on the docotors face.

12:13 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...


That sounds dramatic!

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never even thought about pooping during labor, but I did. I pooped with 3 of my pushes and I don't mean a tiny bit. My sister also pooped with one of her births as well. And I promise your not worrying about pooping at this stage.

3:52 PM  
Blogger ani said...

I was just googling this topic and came across your post. Sorry to be such a geek but I noticed no one answered your statistics question -- whether n = 24 is significant. Unfortunately, if we assume poop during labor is normally distributed as most things in life, no. 200 is the magic number, or at least ~160 to be considered statistically significant. Thanks, though, for the humor and the wisdom!

3:52 PM  
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5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I found this site, totally made my day. Logically, I understand that this should not even register on my list of concerns regarding delivering my first baby... but pooping is right at the top!! I hate to admit it, but it's TRUE. I asked my mother if she pooped with any of her 3 children, and apparently back then (28+ years ago) they gave you an enema before your water broke, and shaved you from belly button to knees! Sanitary measures to reduce infection was the reason given. Wish that was still the case... the enema part at least. Cripes, can't believe I'm wishing for an enema ;-)

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Aşk Büyüsü said...

I was terrified of pooping, too. But I did ( a little ). My husband told me later when I asked him. Honestly - I didn't feel it and I really didn't care. There were, um, much more pressing issues at hand.

9:31 AM  

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